I knew things had to change when I found myself crouching inside a miniature tent, texting. I’d crawled in there under the pretence of playing with my child, but she was now engaged in a game/fight with another little girl. The real reason I was in the rather over-crowded tent was to avoid talking to *shudder* other parents. All those confident, mum boot-wearing women wanging on about purees and childcare and cake. Far better to huddle in a play tent on my own and text my mate about how hideous playgroup was.
Like many people, although I can seem quite chatty and confident, I am by nature an introvert. And for many months after having Leila I found playgroups and other communal parental scenarios fairly horrifying. Beyond my NCT friends (who had surprised me by being funny and fun; but who I probably wouldn’t have managed to speak to, was this not the Law of NCT, that Thou Shalt Make Friends), I didn’t talk to anyone much, or if I did, stupid things would jump out of my mouth before my brain realised it, often thanks to the classic fat-kid reflex of cracking a joke, any joke, to prevent awkward silences. There was a lot of chat-avoidance I could achieve by breastfeeding intently in a corner, or feverishly scrolling through my phone.
It didn’t help that some of the tentative approaches I made did nothing to dismantle my own prejudices. Like the time I commented on how much a baby was enjoying his biscuit, and his mum tinkled ‘oh, he’s just DELIGHTED to have got his hands on a proper sugary biscuit, if we were at home he’d be having a home-made organic snack!’ (was she perhaps part of a secret camera show? I’m still not sure).
But in that moment in the tent, I wondered whether perhaps I could pluck up the courage to actually talk to the other mothers; and whether perhaps I could climb out of my arse for long enough to realise that the stuff they were talking about was the stuff I was thinking about too. And that, if I actually started to talk to them, we might soon enough talk about other things. And that maybe loads of them felt like their mouths were disconnected from their brains too, and were just fronting (the organic snacks woman, for example, maybe she was cringing inside… Actually I doubt it).
I came out of the tent, figuratively speaking. I gritted my teeth and got chatting, and- fancy this!- made friends. I’m still in shock about this. Good shock. But I still have my moments. Like at Leila’s second-ever dance class on Saturday. When the parents had to join their child in a circle at the end, I expected some quaint little goodbye ritual, maybe with waving and a short song. One where I could stand still and avoid looking into anybody’s eyes. I was finding it awkward enough that the leotard-clad teacher was, essentially, stood there in her pants. I did not expect to have to do a dance to Hawaii 5-0 in which we pretended to be on surfboards, with bottom-waggling and that dance move where you hold your nose with one hand and go diving with the other. It was especially excruciating given that Leila- who is proving to be something of a, shall we say, dance class renegade- was hanging from my hands like a sack of potatoes, refusing to join in. From the sound of the relaxed laughter, and even the odd spontaneous ‘woo!’, some of the other mums and dads were finding it bearable.
But as for me? Well, had a play tent been in the vicinity, you wouldn’t have seen me for dust.